In an earlier posting, I mentioned that our Brussels tapestry showing the Battle of Gaugamela (formerly known as Battle of Arbela), which took place in 331BC between Alexander the Great and Darius III, had been sent off for repair. It was due to take about a year, but in the end it stayed away nearly 18 months. But the result was worth waiting for.
Alison Lister of Textile Conservation Limited and her team had a big job to do. First it had its lining and wall fittings removed and was sent for washing a the Royal Manufacturers De Wit at Mechelen in Belgium, that was wet cleaning, carried out on a large suction table using special detergent and soft water. We do not have any similar process available in the UK.
The tapestry was then relined and repaired, where there had been earlier patching. Many broken warps were reinforced by inserting new, colour-matched woollen threads, and new Velcro tape attached for attaching to the wall. It was still a perfect fit, despite the washing and repairs (I may think of sending my jerseys for the same treatment, although the delay and cost would be inconvenient), and it looks much cleaner and stronger.
The replica we had printed has been sold back to the supplier, who hopes to find a home for it elsewhere. No-one complained while the genuine article was away. Some may grumble now, however, as we have been advised to keep light levels as low as possible, so it may not always be easy to admire the excellent quality of the work of restoration.
JH-B 12th September 2010
Our Gothic Drawing Room, decorated to the designs of AWN Pugin in 1849 contains six tapestries, which combine to give the room its rich and warm atmosphere. Four of them came from Wimpole Hall, the former home of the Earls of Hardwicke, one of whose daughters married the Second Earl Somers and brought the tapestries with her.
It is wonderful to have them. But the problem with tapestries is that they are vulnerable to damage from light and, in museum conditions, would be kept at very low levels of lighting, so that it would be hard to appreciate their beauty. One of our tapestries, showing the Battle of Arbela, now referred more accurately as Gaugamela, in 331BC, has suffered in this way over the years. The sun has shone on part of it through a gap in the blinds, and the ultraviolet rays have cut the silk so there is a noticeable tear. There has been some fading of the colours too and it is in need of a good clean.
This year, we decided to have it restored. We first had a reproduction made by a process using a photograph to print its image onto linen so we could use the “fake” to fill the gap on the wall. The original has now been removed and its currently in Belgium where it was woven in Flanders. It will be back early next year and should look much better. I only hope it does not make the other five look too scruffy as a result.